Thaw, Finally

Right at the equinox this year, spring cracks winter’s back in Vermont. The pavement buckles into frost heaves. The dirt roads mush and muddy. Sunday, I find the season’s first coltsfoot, the tiny gems of gold.

A Vermont spring is either a heartbeat — bang, done — or weeks of freeze and thaw, thaw and freeze. Although the days have hit 60 degrees, the nights are still cold, and our wood stove keeps our house warm.

Last evening, we walked by a sugarhouse, its cupola open and steam billowing. The air was tinged with the sweetness of maple, the slight rotting of thawing mud. Instinctively, my upper arms ached. Walking behind my daughters, listening to their chatter, my arms remembered those years when we sugared, and how my arms and gloved hands bent into the woodpile.

Spring is all those things: the radiance of the strengthening sun, the beauty of wildflowers, and how, when the earth thaws, our winter debris of ash pile and last year’s kale stalks emerge.

The bush warbler.
The rain wouldn’t let up.
The travel clothes.

— Mizuhara Shuoshi

Maple, Maternal

The granite foundation of a barn I never saw standing once spread across a field not far from our house. The barn burned before I lived on West Woodbury Road, and a number of years ago, the property changed hands. The new owners grazed cows in that field, and someone removed all the old granite blocks. Now, a young Menonnite couple and their two small boys live there. Last spring, they tilled an enormous garden and planted a huge strawberry patch. Those plants should produce this summer.

Over years, my growing daughters and I watched this field change. One summer afternoon, as we sat on the lawn of the long-abandoned farmhouse,  I noticed the electrical line stopped at the barn. I’d heard rumored the bachelor who last lived in the farmhouse had no electricity, but I’d never noticed that rural electrification must have brought juice right up to the barn and then stopped. The house was across the road. From when it was built until it was pulled down, electric lights never lit its rooms.

This spring, the young couple with their two merry-eyed boys tapped maples all along the road. Last summer, we saw them – father, mother in her skirts, boys in the bike seats – pedaling along the road in the well-lit evenings. May the sap flow generously for these kind people, from the trunks of these long-enduring, wide-reaching beauties. Today, I lay on the cold ground, staring up at that infinitely blue, March sky, world without end.

Whoever you are, go out into the evening,
leaving your room, of which you know every bit;
your house is the last before the infinite,
whoever you are.

– Rainer Maria Rilke


West Woodbury, Vermont